As we limp into a new year, most of us will fall back on our tried-and-true annual resolutions. But this year, setting a goal to lose a little weight might be even more popular than usual.
It would be easy to say that a lot of us committed two of the seven deadly sins this year — sloth and gluttony. We were all there, but in case you need a refresher course into the flat circle of time that was 2020: In March, we received word of Arkansas’ first presumptive case of COVID-19; as the cases rose through those first few weeks, our methods of commerce plummeted diametrically. Schools quickly switched to online only. Businesses shifted to work from home. Restaurants’ chairs began collecting dust atop tables. Churches turned the lights out. For those of us not deemed with the responsibilities of “essential” work, the sins were easy to find. (And, to be fair, we were actually recommended them.) “Vegging” out in the living room went from a Sunday afternoon refresher to an everyday reality.
Thus, we were sloths (not the cute ones) as we skipped showers and tested the durability of our pajamas. We gluttonously indulged our pantries. Our favorite shows to stream tapped out, and we all — somehow — found comfort in binging Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. (If you weren’t involved in the Joe Exotic phase of quarantine, you missed the most unifying event this country’s seen in decades.) It was truly like living in a different reality, at least for a little while. As such, it was easy to fall into the traps of laziness and caloric consumption. (To be fair, again, it felt kind of noble; “I’m staying home to flatten the curve. Now, where are the Oreos?”)
A tinge of denial and deflection remains, as evident by the number of words it’s taken to get to the point: we gained weight. As we begin another year, one that is hopefully not so plagued by a virus as the last, we might be inclined to try and lose those pandemic pounds.
“I think most people treated the first few weeks — and maybe month — as ‘snow days,’” says Frank Lawrence, CEO of The Athletic Clubs. “Most ate, drank and watched a lot of streaming television. But most realized that a healthy lifestyle — managing the biomarkers of weight, blood pressure, etc. — were keys to fighting the virus and maintaining overall good health. We provide a safe solution for that.”
Lawrence sits at the helm of a Central Arkansas fitness empire that includes the Little Rock Athletic Club, North Little Rock Athletic Club and the Downtown Athletic Club. Each of The Athletic Clubs’ locations shut down completely on March 20 and reopened on May 4. Since then, despite the health anxieties and societal fluctuations, he says business has achieved a comfortable steadiness.
“We have worked hard to keep staff and members safe, and overall it has been a tremendous success,” he goes on to say. “Business is sustainable, and we are pleased to be open and serving our members and providing jobs/livelihoods for our staff.”
But simply talking about working out and weight loss is one thing, and even going so far as having a desire to lose a belt notch or two is not always enough to overcome the clouds of stagnation. During a pandemic, that wall of complacency is even more difficult a challenge. For that, Lawrence provides the same advice, no matter who is asking — be it his customers, staff or even family members.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” he says. “That and my motto, ‘RFP,’ or relentless forward pursuit, describe it best. Do one thing — it can be small — but continue doing something. Your efforts will snowball.”
However, the singular acts of a few crunches here or a treadmill mosey there will not yield vast and recognizable results alone — as most of us well know (unfortunately). An aesthetic change requires a lifestyle change — however big or small — that goes beyond just fat burning and muscle building. Hard work in the gym needs to be paired with a good diet on the plate.
“There are lots of diet theories and advice out there; I keep things pretty simple,” Lawrence says. “I try to eat real food (I want it as close to its original source as possible) and eat to support output — don’t eat more than you burn on a daily basis. If you want to drop a few pounds, eat slightly less than your daily output.”
To start the new year, Lawrence and his staff are offering a few discounts to help people knock down that initial domino toward a healthier life.
“In January, we will offer $100 off the joining fee plus $80 in guest fees,” he says. “You’ll also be able to purchase a three-pack of personal training for only $100, so grab a friend and we’ll get that snowball rolling in no time.”
Also gearing up for an influx of new customers this year is Stephanie Newcomb, owner, personal trainer and health coach at Unleashed Health & Fitness in Roland. She transformed her mother’s old horse barn into a fitness studio and hasn’t looked back since, quickly cementing herself as one of the go-tos in the region. Last year, just a few years into the endeavor, Newcomb was voted Best Personal Trainer in the AY’s Best of 2020 awards.
Newcomb was fortunate to not be bound by the regulations of most gyms during the pandemic, offering her clients virtual training sessions, which she says grew “astronomically.”
“I have had a few new clients come who have expressed that, during the lockdown, they definitely turned to food for comfort,” she says. “We are in a really weird time, and that’s understandable. It helps to have a coach checking in on you and encouraging good eating habits.
“Honestly, the working out part is the easiest part. Health-conscious eating is the hardest because we are surrounded by processed, sugary foods. You have to look at food like it’s your medicine; what you put into your body is so very important. Processed foods cause inflammation and diseases, which is why it is important to eat real, whole foods. The best place to start your journey is to cut out processed foods and limit your alcohol intake. Later, look at gluten and dairy — there are no health benefits in those foods. Also, listen to your body. If you have bloating or a stomach ache, your body is trying to tell you, ‘Hey, I am not digging what you just ate.’ Listen up.”
As much as anything, Newcomb is a subscriber of the age-old phrase: mind over matter.
“It’s really a mindset,” she says. “Until you can get it in your head that nothing is going to change unless you make changes, then it’s not going to happen. You have to surround yourself with like-minded people to encourage you along your journey, in a small group or virtually. Accountability is huge, that’s why my clients love our classes because we truly are a community. Whether it’s a class, one-on-one session, either in person or virtual, I personally am there waiting on my clients to show up — and if you don’t I am checking on you.”
And speaking of the hard and easy parts of a fitness journey, simply taking that first step is also an easy part. Strava, an exercise tracking service, estimates that around 80 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them by mid-February. And most of those won’t even make it out of the first month of 2021, dropping the resolutions by Jan. 19, which Strava less-than-affectionately refers to as “Quitter’s Day.”
To avoid falling away from the goals you set this year — whether they are weight-focused or otherwise — it’s important to be realistic and to strive toward creating useful habits rather than falling into fads.
“You have to set attainable and reasonable goals,” Newcomb says. “Don’t try to change everything all at once. Start with small steps — working out two to three times a week, giving up gluten or sugar, upping your water intake, etc.”
For Lawrence, such monikers as being designated a “quitter” can be counterproductive. He suggests perspective and patience, because lifestyle changes do not come about overnight.
“People always think in terms of ‘blowing it,’ which causes such negative self-talk,” he says. “Who cares if you miss a day or eat a bad meal? When you do, visualize yourself happily leaving the gym after a great workout. That tool alone will help create positive self-talk which leads to great habits.”
And this year poses another challenge to prospective pound shedders: a microscopic virus that weighs far less than any of us ever will. Anxieties surrounding COVID-19 remain real, as most of the general public is still in a months-long line to get vaccinated for the novel coronavirus and subsequent disease. For those of us, a gym or public place may not be in the cards, but both Newcomb and Lawrence have instituted additional protocols to curb transmission.
“We ask that all patrons wear masks except for when they are actively working out and that they stay apart,” Lawrence says. “In classes, we space people using dots on the floor so that everyone has approximately 150 square feet to themselves. Our team of ‘health guards’ sanitize equipment during the day which is complemented by our nighttime housekeeping staff’s layered cleaning protocol. We also fog our facilities once a month with BioProtect which gives long-lasting antimicrobial protection.”
At Unleashed Health & Fitness, Newcomb says, “We wash hands when we enter the building and when we leave. Everyone is responsible for getting their own weights and cleaning their own equipment. We try and spread out as we can … [all are] sternly encouraged to stay home if anyone is feeling the slightest bit sick.”
If a weight-related resolution isn’t in your future, consider setting an aim or goal elsewhere to improve upon where your weak points might be. No one is perfect, and that should not be taken as a daunting and impossible task to attain — just proof that we can all be better, and we’re together in our imperfection. Just not as together as when we were all watching Tiger King.